Two Athletics top prospects set to pitch in the spring training opener on Saturday

Joe Boyle and Joey Estes are set to take the mound on Saturday in the Athletics spring training opener against the Rockies

Sep 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Joey Estes (68)
Sep 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Joey Estes (68) / Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics' first full-squad workout in Arizona was yesterday and despite all the negativity surrounding the team's relocation efforts, it's a good feeling to hear the gloves popping and the bats cracking again.

Martin Gallegos of reported yesterday that the Athletics plan to have both Joe Boyle and Joey Estes pitch in Saturday's spring training opener against the Rockies.

As of today, the A's have four rotation spots locked in for opening day. Barring injury, Paul Blackburn, JP Sears, Alex Wood, and Ross Stripling will man the first four rotation spots. The fifth is up for grabs and will be one of the most interesting battles of the spring down in Mesa.

Luis Medina seems to be the leading candidate by default, as he's out of minor league options. Boyle and Estes are in the conversation due to their prospect status and their performance in 2023.

Eno Sarris of The Athletic has a metric called Stuff+, which is a tool that, in general terms, "aims to capture the “nastiest” pitches in baseball". According to Sarris, Joe Boyle was the second-ranked starting pitcher in Triple-A by Stuff+ during the 2023 season.

Boyle has always had massive potential. Fangraphs' Eric Longenhagen noted in the Reds' 2023 mid-season writeup that "Even though he isn’t routinely sitting 100 mph like he was as a pure reliever, his 95-to-99-mph fastball has huge riding life, and each of his two breaking balls flash plus, most frequently Boyle’s low-80s curveball".

Boyle's problem is that he hasn't been able to throw strikes. Prior to the trade, Boyle was walking about a batter per inning but found his command after coming to Oakland. In his three major league starts he walked just 8% of batters, compared to a mark of roughly 20% in the Reds' system.

It's a small sample size to be sure, but if he's able to reel in the fastball and consistently throw it for strikes, he could be a monster for the A's.

Estes doesn't come with the same amount of prospect pedigree or potential but he has had success in the A's minor league system. After a breakout season in 2021 at Single-A, he was traded from Atlanta in the Matt Olson deal. He's had mixed results in the two years since.

Estes had strong showings at High-A Lansing in 2022, and posted good results last year at Double-A Midland. He struggled a bit in Triple-A and didn't pitch well in his cup of coffee in Oakland, posting a 7.20 ERA with a sub-15% strikeout rate in 10 innings.

Despite the stats, Estes still has the potential to be an effective starter. He has good movement on the four-seamer, some deception in the delivery, and has a good slider and changeup combo that keep hitters on their toes.

Estes' success will ride on the fastball and whether he can get major league hitters to swing and miss in the zone like he has in the minors. His secondary pitches should be good enough to carry him, but if he's getting beat up on the four-seamer, he will struggle.

As it stands, both of these guys are long shots to make the opening day roster. However, if everything goes according to plan, they'll be knocking on the door early in the season, looking for an opportunity to make their mark in the majors.